Ed reform think tank declares unified enrollment dead in Boston

Yawu Miller | 1/31/2018, 12:51 p.m.
A year ago, members of the Boston Compact, a team of city, charter school and BPS officials, said they would ...
BPS parents, BPS officials and charter leaders discuss a unified enrollment system during a 2015 meeting in Dorchester. Banner photo

As much as the district’s moves have angered parents, Ballot Question 2 seemed to stoke parents’ concerns about charters even more, with 62 percent of Bostonians voting down the measure. The CRPE report cites cities where elected school committees and strong city councils provide a counter-balance to mayoral authority as examples of instances where politics derailed cross-sector collaborations. But in Boston, Walsh appoints the School Committee and the City Council has limited power to block his policies. The “politics” that appears to have undermined support for unified enrollment in Boston was the politics of Question 2, not an internecine squabble in City Hall. Support for charters in Boston, and throughout Massachusetts, declined steadily throughout 2016, even as charter supporters pumped more than $21 million into marketing the charter expansion measure.

CRPE recommends

The CRPE report advocates that groups like the Boston Compact broaden their political base by building coalitions with nonprofits and other stakeholders and focus on “baby steps,” small collaborations that build trust between the charter and district school sectors.

The organization cites Denver, Colorado, where leaders from charter and district schools worked to win over middle class families, “closing fewer schools, focusing new charter schools on underserved neighborhoods that did not threaten existing power bases, and leaving key middle class advantages (e.g., neighborhood schools in affluent areas) alone.”

CRPE, housed at the University of Washington, advocates for school reforms including what it calls the “portfolio strategy,” a model where district, charter and private schools work together to provide a network of choices for parents. Boston joined CRPE’s Portfolio Network in 2011 and since then, the think tank notes, has been an exemplar in implementing school autonomy — one of the seven components of its portfolio strategy. Other components include performance-based accountability for schools, pupil-based funding for all schools and “good options and choices for families.”

CRPE regularly interviews leaders in school districts, charter schools, and support organizations in cities that have formalized their partnerships through District-Charter Collaboration Compacts supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to the CRPE website.